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Remembering an African martyrdom
A review of Ludo De Witte's The Assassination of Lumumba (translated from the Dutch by Ann Wright and Renee Fenby).

By Sreeram Chaulia

"I prefer to die with my head held high, unshakeable faith and the greatest confidence in the destiny of my country rather than live in slavery "
- Patrice Lumumba from his death cell, January 1961

July 2 is the anniversary of the birth of one of Africa's greatestsons, Patrice Emery Lumumba. He died young at the age of 36, when he was felled by a hail of bullets whose origin dated back to a diabolical six month long plot of the Belgian and American governments and their puppet collaborators in newly independent Congo. When Belgian sociologist Ludo De Witte published the Dutch version of this book in 1999, Brussels instituted a parliamentary enquiry into the long-suspected and just-proven allegations of direct Belgian responsibility for the assassination of a legally elected Prime Minister of a sovereign country. The enquiry concluded against the grain of evidence that Belgian ministers of Gaston Eysken's cabinet of 1960-61 were "morally responsible", but had not ordered Lumumba's physical elimination. Public apologies to the Lumumba family and the Congolese people were added as sops to sweeten the eyewash that sought to protect the highest authorities of the land whose hands were unquestionably soaked in Lumumba's blood.

The English translation of De Witte's investigative post mortem will help disseminate to a world-wide audience the four decade old truth that Brussels is still balking to admit - its heads of state and government, foreign minister, minister for African affairs and consuls in Africa all acted as first rate criminals and conspirators in a bid to recolonize the Congo and "liquidate" the hope of the masses, Lumumba. It shatters to smithereens the publicity smokescreen erected after 1961 that the assassination was a Congolese affair, a settling of scores "among Bantus", which had nothing to do with the West. In De Witte's own evaluation, his book "is a staggering example of what the Western ruling classes are capable of when their vital interests are threatened" (p xxv).

Enemy number 1 of the neo-colonial cabal
De Witte's central thesis is that Lumumba became a man who frightened the Belgians once they realized that he helmed of a holistic anti-colonial revolution that would uproot all vestiges and structures that benefited the former colonial masters. The pillars of Belgian imperialism - mining corporations and trusts, white army officers and bureaucrats, religious missions, etc - expected to hold on to their exploitative and privileged positions after independence, albeit with an African faade. Prime Minister Lumumba and other radical nationalists like Pierre Mulele took independence seriously and began Africanizing key paraphernalia of governance and law and order in the two short months they were allowed to hold office, July and August of 1960.

Belgian sovereign Badouin, Prime Minister Eyskens and Foreign Minister Wigny charted out a strategy of using the mineral-rich southern province of Katanga as "a lever against Lumumba's Congo" by aiding its secession. Besides putting up the reactionary Moise Tshombe as the "legitimate President of Katanga" and helping him militarily to secure his "independence" against Lumumba's center, Wigny wrote in September to his consulate in Congo-Brazzaville, "the constituted authorities have the duty to render Lumumba harmless" (p 23). The Belgian minister for African affairs, D'Aspremont Lynden, authorized a clandestine mercenary operation called Operation Barracuda in October saying, "The main aim to pursue is clearly Lumumba's elimination definitive" (French emphasis original, p 25).

Meanwhile, CIA chief Allen Dulles told the Eisenhower administration that "Lumumba was a Castro or worse" and persuaded Ike to declare at a National Security Council meeting that he favored "Lumumba's elimination". Chemical scientist Gottlieb was sent to the Congo with poisonous gases to "mount an operation to either seriously incapacitate or eliminate Lumumba". A hired assassin, "capable of doing anything" arrived in November, but the hit-and-run job failed as Lumumba escaped from the house imprisonment maintained by Mobutu's soldiers (who, in turn, were kept on the anti-Lumumba side by "bulging briefcases" full of American dollars transferred from New York). On November 24, 1960, the US helped Kasa Vubu's illegitimate coup in Leopoldville attain international recognition in the UN General Assembly by anointing him as the legitimate head of the Congo. The UN special envoy in the Congo, Rajeshwar Dayal, later described the vote in New York as "one of the most glaring examples of the massive and organized application of threats and pressures ... to member states to change their votes" (p 51).

Lumumba was no communist, but the suspicion-laden air of the Cold War lent weight to the alarmist voices of Dulles and Leopoldville CIA station chief Larry Devlin, and moved America into the anti-nationalist camp, a conservative shift that was crystallized with the post-Lumumba strategic alliance between Washington and the "CIA's tyrant", Congolese military leader Joseph Mobutu.

'Execution' mode
Such was the adulation and popular appeal of Lumumba's name and vision all over the Congo that even though he was ejected from power and incarcerated, Brussels and its lackeys in Africa suffered sleepless nights, with fears of nationalist uprisings in the army and civilian population. Only in the maniacally suppressed breakaway Katanga province could they expect their dream of Lumumba's assassination to have the least political consequence. The transfer of Lumumba to Elisabethville (Katanga's capital) was a Belgian government idea executed by Belgian engineers and radio operators who flew a private plane across the breadth of the country. Upon arrival, Lumumba and associates were tortured to senselessness by Katangan soldiers under express commands of their Belgian superiors. The merciless execution and interment of Lumumba, carried out by Belgian intelligence agents on January 17, should not be seen as the action of "local commanders" who went wild, but the consummation of Brussels's remote control over the ghastly Congolese nightmare that began right from the day of the hand-over of power to Africans. The "damage control" propaganda of Belgian and Western media that Lumumba was done in by "Bantu mentality" and tribal hatreds was, to De Witte, "a campaign of Congolization and banalization of events" (p145). This banalization has not ended even 40 years after the tragedy.

Consequences of January 17, 1961
Lumumba's tragic murder set loose a torrent of military suppression and choking of Congolese self-determination, throwing one of Africa's richest resource countries into the depths of poverty and civil war. A UN cable of 1964 wrote, "Belgian businessmen are determined to reassert complete control over Congolese government and economy to the point that there will in fact be a classic neocolonialist system in existence." The cycle of "pacification programs" and severe militarization in social life went into action "as if the days of Leopold II had returned to the Congo" (p164). Africa as a whole suffered reverses in its liberation struggles as a result of Lumumba's assassination, sliding down a slippery slope of counterrevolution: Portugal delayed decolonization in Angola; there was a halt in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa; a temporary reprieve for Ian Smith's settler regime in Rhodesia; and the overthrow of Ben Bella in Algeria in 1965. Belgian indecency in the Congo paid rich dividends to the colonial enterprise on the whole continent.

"Patrice Lumumba's attempt to introduce an authentic national-democratic revolution to the Congo is enough to place him in the pantheon of universal defenders of the emancipation of people" (p181). His life will remain an inspiration for generations of Congolese, Africans and supporters of freedoms throughout the world. Even in his dying moments, as his Belgian-Katangan butchers recalled, he maintained a stoic dignity and refused to compromise with evil. His "supreme contempt and extraordinary courage" in the face of death, when he could have easily bought personal liberty by kow-towing to imperialism shine as silver linings for a Congo which continues to struggle from internal and regional war that is the legacy of Mobutuism.

As far as Belgium is concerned, De Witte is point-blank about its much-hyped judicial system that allows crimes against humanity to be prosecuted wherever they are committed: "The Belgian ruling class has no moral authority to lecture others on democracy or human rights" (p172).

Apart from De Witte's half-convincing attempts to involve Dag Hammarksjold and the UN as willing accomplices and co-conspirators of Lumumba's removal from government and fatal end (the author has underestimated the original UN mandate in the Congo, which was non-combatant in nature), this is a meticulously researched book that deserves to be read by all lovers of peace and human dignity. Like a Franz Kafka novel, it is sickening and disturbing (especially the section in which the Belgians mutilate and burn to ashes the corpse of the "fallen prophet" to eliminate proof). But the overall message is one of hope - hope that the Congo and Africa will resurrect the spirit and mission of Lumumba and never allow themselves to be despoiled by former masters again.

The Assassination of Lumumba. Verso Books, 2001. ISBN: 1-85984-618-1. Price: US$27. 224 pages.

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Jul 3, 2002

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